The smaller body stretched out her arms, shields glittered and she swooped . . . stalled out and dropped ten feet, with an odd braking effect near the ground.
Dave abandoned his gun, threw off the blanket, and raced down . . .
Qamar was sitting on the ground, Rael crouched beside her, examining her neck. “All superficial, I’ll just put a very mild healing spell on it. And . . .” she pulled out a tiny med kit with a wipe to deal with the blood . . .
Dave leaned over with his hands on his knees. I will not faint.
Rael looked over at him and shook her head. “Dave, I am going to work your ass off until you can shoot like that all the time. And that was a damned nice bit of flying for a girl who’s never even tried it before.”
“I’ve watched you do it . . .”
Rael stood up and Dave stepped forward to offer Qamar a hand up. She took it and stood, leaned on him. "I knew you’d remember the hostage protocols.”
Dave swallowed. “Yeah. And you remembered, too.” He hugged her back.
Then Umaya arrived to snatched her away . . . to finger the short loose hairs above Qamar’s ear, the matching loose end hanging from the bun on the back of her head. Her brows lowered and she eyed Dave with disfavor. “You will never again shoot that close to my daughter.” It was definitely an order. Verging on threat. The Prophet’s wife steered her lone chick away.
Dave swallowed, feeling shaky. Blinked at the bottle Rael handed him. “Drink it. That was a very impressive shot. Through a physical shield.”
Dave chugged half the bottle. Took a deep breath as he steadied. “I used that sniper rifle we . . . found. Scar said the bullets had shield piercing spells on them.”
“And you guided it magically, Dave.” Rael punched his arm. “Now let’s check out what’s left of Ycrw while Izzo tries to cobble together a new victory speech.”
The shot had caught the side of Ycrw’s head, smashing bone . . . Dave suspected that the bone, and the shockwave had done the damage. More than enough to kill him. The fall hadn’t done too much damage.
“I threw out a kinetic absorption field.” Rael shook her head. “Fine if he’d just dropped her. It was the knife . . .” She knelt and looked at Ycrw’s hand. “Yeah, see the threads? The ring unscrews, a coiled razor strip with this little triangle at the end. That’s going to make weapons searches into a real pain in the . . . Well. Good job.” She thumped his shoulder. “Now let’s go talk to Urfa and Izzo.”
“And I’ll add domestic fanaticism to the list of things to be aware of, to beware of.” Izzo shook his head. “This has been a brutal election. We all need to rethink our strategies, and leave out shootings, bombing, hostage taking . . .” Izzo shook his head. “The election’s over. Now we need to pull together for the good of the Empire.”
Dave circled the remaining crowd—rather a lot of people had decided the party was over and it was time to go home—and stood near the Commander and family. Got another dark look from Umaya, and an approving nod from Nicholas, as his arm tightened around Qamar. Then the speech was over and people moved away.
Izzo walked over and hopped off the platform. “Qamar? Are you all right?”
Qamar nodded and blushed. “Yes sir . . . I’m sorry I hit you, when . . .”
Izzo laughed. “I’m not. That was quite a power punch, from a skinny little twelve year old girl! It definitely solidified my deductions about all of you.”
Qamar looked down and shuffled her feet. “Well, I’m really glad there wasn’t a train. Because then you wouldn’t have been able to rescue Ra’d.” Then she turned fiery red. “I mean . . .”
“That Ra’d’s very important to you? I’m glad about the lack of a train as well, but if you hadn’t knocked me off the platform, I’d have stayed and argued, maybe taken the same train you all took. And I would have been tragically late getting to Makkah.”
“Oh . . .”
Izzo looked from her to Dave and back. “That was rather a case of just happening to do the right thing at the right time, wasn’t it? There are days when I wish I was studying magic . . . but today . . . nope. I think I’ll go collapse somewhere.”
Dave nodded. What a truly excellent idea.
President Orde looked around. “Let me show you the best place for that.”
A private combined parlor and dining room, comfortable chairs, and food and drink showing up.
Urfa popped in, Ox in tow. “No one else was involved. The One Firsters are mostly aghast at the whole thing. Especially when they heard that the hostage was the daughter of a prophet. So we’ll wrap this up quickly . . .” He eyed Rael, and then Izzo and Ox. “Unless you want us to dig more deeply into that sniper two weeks ago.”
Ox eyed him, raised an eyebrow at Izzo. “That certainly never hit the news.”
Izzo grimaced. Then leaned forward to eye Rael. “How about a highly hypothetic version of what might have happened? From the start, say, how, hypothetically someone might have found out about the possibility.”
“Oh, could be a young person home from the Directorate School for a quick visit home after midterms, overheard some people say something about not having to worry Izzo for much longer. And might have sought out a fellow student with connections to an agent. Who might have gotten a rather nebulous warning, and stepped out to speak sensibly to the person who had uttered that comment.”
Dave watched peoples’ expressions while Rael hypotheticaled her way through the whole tale. Amused. Trusting. Even Izzo’s gone from warily curious to respectful. Ox . . . is harder to read.
Rael ended with “And this purely hypothetical agent might actually have managed to lose all twelve of those hypothetically nasty sorts on an Evac World and somehow the gate might have closed just afterwards.”
Dave gawped a bit. Swallowed. “And hypothetically, the poor schmuck trailing her might have not gotten around to doing something with a captured sniper rifle loaded with shield piercing rounds. Until he suddenly needed it.”
Izzo nodded. “I really, hypothetically, hope that things like that don’t happen very often.”
“In reality? Not hardly ever. Honest.” Rael shrugged. “Somethings are better done clandestinely, when they intersect with politics. If this hypothetical stuff had not involved a presidential election, it would have been handled openly and legally.”
Urfa grinned and looked over at Ox. Who sighed. “Rael, hypothetically, this arranger fellow . . . sounds like everything I always wondered about you.”
“I know. But some fellows . . . have no conscious whatsoever. Killing someone is just another job. I will never be like that. So . . . decide if you want them back, and I’ll go fetch them.”
Izzo hissed a bit. “Damn. Not even sworn in, and I need to decide on expediency or legality.”
Nicholas nodded. “If you’ll listen to some advice . . . these are dangerous people who will kill people, if they get back into circulation. And what will your court system make of the evidence, and how Rael acquired it?”
“They’ll walk.” Ox shook his head. “Urfa? What would you do?”
“Wish guiltily that Rael had killed them and never mentioned it to me?” He shrugged. “Probably leave them where they are for six months, until everything is humming along smoothly, then bring them out and try the courts.”
Ox and Izzo looked at each other and nodded.
Good. Because I’d hate to kill them, but that Peeve fellow?
I will kill him if he walks.
Izzo looked around the ornate official Office of the President and shuddered. “I think I’ll take a note of your example and have a working office.”
Orde snickered. “It worked for me.” He sighed. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a really nice long vacation, without regular interruptions? Actually . . . I’m not sure when I last managed two weeks off, even with interruptions.”
Izzo grinned. “Well, when you finally get bored and ready to do something . . . I’ve always thought that the fictional ‘Concord of Worlds’ that the Department of Interdimensional Security and Cooperation pretends to be a part of really needs to be built.
“It would take a man well known for his honesty, honor, and desire for peace to pull it off. Like you. So go play with your grandkids, and think about it.”
Izzo turned to Urfa . . . “And then there’s the Directorate School. It desperately needs new leadership. I’ve had a chat with Chancellor Yhge, and he didn’t hardly grit his teeth when I suggested he retire.”
“You want me to play lion tamer to a herd of Team Trainees?”
“You have the sort of reputation that can keep them in line—and make them start choosing sensible people as trainees.” Izzo grinned. “Take a vacation. Go think about it. Ten years there, ten years in an elected position . . . and then you’re the next Modernist Presidential Candidate.”
“One! Do I look insane?”
“No, you look like an enigmatic schemer. Don’t know how you pull that off.”
Tenuously connected scene . . .
“Milo . . . go away and chase after some woman who will not alienate your dad, sabotage your political career, horrify your friends, and disgust you when all my deep dark secrets come out.”
“No.” The infuriating creature kicked back in the chair next to hers, completely at ease.
:: Arno? I’m going to have to exercise the nuclear option on Milo. ::
:: Ooo! Can I come watch the expression on his face? ::
:: No! I’m just warning you. ::
:: No problem. Enjoy, kicking the poor sad creature. ::
:: Shut up. ::
“Milo. My biomother is Rael Withione Montevideo. The Rael. My father is . . .”
“Xen Wolfson. Did you really think no one’s noticed? Well, not the Team Trainees, they’re not terribly bright.” He grinned. “It’s the hair. If you’d dyed it, or shaved it off, maybe you could have gotten through your first semester without being recognized.”
“Oh, good grief. I always figured I could ditch you with that, if I got desperate.”
“Desperate? Nope, you don’t look desperate. You look like a young woman who thought no one would love her if they found out your . . .” His voice dropped two octaves. “Deep. Dark. Secret.”
He grinned. “Now you’re going to have to come to terms with the knowledge that the people worth hanging around with don’t care. Or worse, think it’s interesting.”